The Scottish FA JD Performance Schools are in good health if the evidence of recent months is anything to go by, with participants and graduates of the programme making an impact across all levels of the Scottish game.
Now in its seventh year, the programme works with seven schools across Scotland to further the development of potential future stars of the Scotland national sides.
In the past few months, three more Scottish FA JD Performance School graduates have made their professional debuts in Scottish football – Ross Graham made his first appearance for Dundee United when he pulled on the orange jersey against St Johnstone in August, Stephen Kelly came off the bench for Rangers against Ayr United in the Betfred Cup quarter-finals, whilst Lewis McGrattan earned his debut for Greenock Morton’s Championship clash with Partick Thistle.
New intake of school participants welcomed
The latest intake of Scottish FA JD Performance School pupils was officially unveiled at Hampden Park back in September, with 70 of the country’s up-and-coming talents taking part in a day of activities at the home of Scottish football.
Scottish FA Performance Director Malky Mackay and Scotland Under-21 star Billy Gilmour were amongst those invited to speak at the event, with the new participants and their families alike in the audience for the ceremony.
Pupils also had the chance to showcase their skills in a practical session on the Hampden warm-up pitch, before enjoying a team talk in the historic surroundings of the same Hampden dressing rooms that have played host to some of the greatest players to have played the game.
Hampden hosts Performance School graduation
At the other end of the spectrum, 73 Scottish FA JD Performance School pupils graduated in style prior to Scotland’s friendly match against Belgium in September.
Luminaries from across the Scottish footballing community, including Mackay, Scottish FA Chief Executive Ian Maxwell and Scotland Women’s National Team manager Shelley Kerr, spent time with the graduates and their families in the ceremony at Hampden Park.
Scotland Under-21 head coach Scot Gemmill delivered a rousing speech to those in attendance about the next steps on their pathway, with under-21 internationals Chris Hamilton, Dean Campbell and Harry Cochrane joining Gilmour in passing on their tips to the next generation.
PERFORMANCE | Congratulations to latest group of Scottish FA JD Performance School pupils who graduated at Hampden last night. pic.twitter.com/dQAhXNvi18— Scottish FA (@ScottishFA) September 8, 2018
Performance School Manager Brian McLaughlin praised the evening, saying: “It was great to have everyone under one roof to celebrate the achievements of all the young players involved in the programme.
“I think it’s also important that we were able to recognise the contribution of the Performance School staff and the families themselves, because without their support none of the success the system has enjoyed to date would be possible.
“The seven schools have been up and running since 2012 – providing what we feel is crucial additional coaching around the normal schoolwork, to essentially give our talented boys and girls the best possible chance to develop their abilities and hopefully one day progress to represent Scotland.”
McLaughlin appointed new Performance Schools Manager
McLaughlin was confirmed as the new manager for the Scottish FA JD Performance Schools earlier this year, having previously been a part of the programme through his role at Holyrood Secondary School.
Speaking following the announcement, he said: “[The schools are] something I’m really looking forward to getting involved in. I know all of the guys really well. I obviously know the schools really well.
“I’m looking forward to putting my own stamp on it and trying to improve the programme further.”
Chelsea midfielder Billy Gilmour and Hearts defender Chris Hamilton became the first Scottish FA JD Performance School graduates to represent Scotland Under-21s earlier this year, with the pair both involved in Scot Gemmill’s side’s fourth-place finish at the Toulon Tournament.
Gilmour in particular caught the eye, taking home the coveted ‘Revelation of the Tournament’ award in an event where he became the youngest player to ever score and captain the under-21 side.
His form has seen no drop off in the following months, with the 16-year-old involved in the team’s victories over Andorra and the Netherlands in UEFA European Under-21 Championship Qualifying in September.
Eight Scottish FA JD Performance School graduates helped Scotland’s under-19s to qualify for their fifth UEFA Elite Round in succession in November, with Billy Stark’s side emerging victorious from their Qualifying Round group in Wales.
An 85th minute goal from Gilmour saw Scotland past the hosts in their opening match, before Dapo Mebude and Sebastian Ross joined the Chelsea midfielder on the scoresheet in a thumping 5-0 win over San Marino.
Gilmour’s third goal in three games then set Scotland on their way in their final group game against Sweden, as his side secured a 2-2 draw to earn the point required to progress to the next stage.
Head coach Pauline Hamill named two Scottish FA JD Performance School graduates in her squad for the recent UEFA Preparatory Tournament, an event hosted by Scotland.
Abby Callaghan and Sara McWhirter, of the University of Stirling and Motherwell respectively, each took their place in the midfield of Hamill’s side.
Whilst the hosts suffered defeats to France, Spain and Denmark, Hamill’s team will be looking ahead to the UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championship next summer – a tournament which will also be on home soil for Scotland.
Fresh from his exploits at the Toulon Tournament, Hamilton was one of 12 Scottish FA JD Performance School graduates selected for the first-ever Scotland under-18 squad in late September.
The Hearts defender was joined by team-mate Anthony McDonald as part of a 20-strong playing group that travelled to Spain in October, with the men in blue claiming a 1-1 draw with Uzbekistan before being edged out by France in a tight contest.
Rangers trio Mebude, Nathan Paterson and Josh McPake were also among the graduates included in the squad, alongside Aberdeen’s Archie Mair, Dean Campbell and Ethan Ross. Ethan Erhahon, Marc Leonard, Terry Taylor and Jamie Semple rounded out the crop of graduates pulling on the national jersey out in Marbella.
After two victories over Russia in August, head coach Brian McLaughlin named nine Scottish FA JD Performance School participants in his Scotland under-17 squad for October’s UEFA Qualifying Round in Cyprus.
The squad, featuring the likes of Hamilton goalkeeper Jamie Smith and Hearts duo Cammy Logan and Connor Smith, claimed a hard-fought 2-1 win over Kosovo in their opening fixture, before earning a draw against the hosts in their second match.
Despite defeat to Switzerland in the final group encounter, McLaughlin’s men’s second-place finish in the group was enough to seal their passage through to the Elite Round, as they continue their pursuit of qualification for next summer’s European Championships.
Three Scottish FA JD Performance School participants were part of the Scotland women’s under-17 squad that secured qualification to the UEFA Elite Round, in which victory will see the team reach the UEFA Women’s Under-17 European Championship in Bulgaria next summer.
Miss it earlier?— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) October 10, 2018
Scotland Women's Under-17s have qualified for the Elite Round Stage of @UEFAWomensEURO Under-17s qualification! 🙌
Congratulations to @paulineedi and the squad. #SCOW17s #OurGirlsOurGame pic.twitter.com/maf991cANr
Aaliyah-Jay Meach and Philippa McCallum both played their part with distinction as the side progressed, with Meach keeping a clean sheet against Slovakia.
The team will now await the draw for the Elite Round, where the likes of France, Germany and Spain could await Pauline McDonald’s side.
Five participants of the Scottish FA JD Performance Schools were selected for the Scotland under-16 squad in August, with the team taking on Turkey and England in a brace of friendlies.
Christopher Mochrie and Lewis Neilson, both of Dundee United, were joined in the squad by Matthew Connolly, Kevin Hanratty and Lewis Smith for the trip to St George’s Park.
Despite losing both games, each participant gained valuable experience as they continue on the performance pathway.